Queen and her court: Reinagel repeats as player of the year

Sunday, December 21, 2008
KIT DOYLE ~ kdoyle@semissourian.com
Lauren Reinagel's family has been behind her throughout her journey to becoming the Southeast Missourian softball Player of the Year for the second straight season. Parents Lisa and Ray, as well as older sister Lindsay, also have had a hand in the Notre Dame softball program.

Ray Reinagel always envisioned his two daughters becoming catchers when they were old enough to play fastpitch softball.

Reinagel, 51, was a catcher during his fastpitch softball career, which spanned more than 30 years and saw him play in tournaments across the country.

But Lindsay and Lauren Reinagel didn't follow in their father's footsteps, instead becoming pitchers.

"I was just lucky enough to have two daughters who picked up the sport," Ray said.

Lauren, a junior at Notre Dame and the youngest member of the Reinagel family, is this year's Southeast Missourian softball Player of the Year for the second consecutive year. She went 27-1 with a 0.28 ERA and struck out 254 batters in 174 innings. She posted 20 shutouts and nine no-hitters, including two perfect games.

CHUCK WU ~ cwu@semissourian.com
Notre Dame pitcher Lauren Reinagel throws out an opponent after fielding a ball this past season. Defense by Reinagel and her teammates was a key ingredient to Notre Dame's success in 2008.

Not just Lauren but the entire Reinagel family of Kelso has helped shape Notre Dame into one of the best Class 3 softball programs in Missouri.

Ray, a 1976 graduate of Notre Dame, serves as an assistant coach for the team and has been using the expertise he gained from catching to call pitches since the 2001 season. During the past eight years, pitchers have dominated at Notre Dame, beginning with Lindsay, a two-time all-state pitcher who led Notre Dame to its first softball district title in 2001.

Ray also launched the SEMO Magic summer team, which prepares the Notre Dame girls for the high school season by offering them the chance to play with one another against other top teams in the country during the offseason.

Notre Dame has won seven district titles and appeared in four final fours since Ray and Lindsay became involved with the program in 2001.

And how about this for even more Reinagel family history with Notre Dame softball -- Ray's wife and Lindsay and Lauren's mother, Lisa Reinagel, a 1977 Notre Dame graduate, was a first baseman on the first Notre Dame softball team in the spring of 1977.

ELIZABETH DODD ~ edodd@semissourian.com
Lauren Reinagel delivered a pitch during a no-hitter she threw against Kennett in the Class 3 District 2 championship game. Reinagel threw nine no-hitters her junior season.

Ray answered modestly when asked about the link between his family and the Notre Dame softball program's consistent winning since 2001.

"Whatever part we played in it was small," Ray said. "The other girls' dedication to it from year in and year out, I think that is the big key. ... And what [Lauren] and her team has accomplished is just kind of mind boggling."

The experienced catcher

Jeff Graviett was offered the job as Notre Dame softball coach before the 2003 season after serving as an assistant coach the two previous years. He immediately knew he had to ask Ray to become one of his assistants.

For Graviett, who also serves as Notre Dame baseball coach, his background lies in baseball, not softball.

"When I got the phone call and was asked if I would take the head job, I said, 'I need to make a phone call,'" Graviett said. "And it was straight to Ray. I said, 'If you're on board, I'm on board.' Because I just didn't have the knowledge of the game. I felt like I could coach and manage the girls and even manage the game from my baseball background, but to have the knowledge to be successful, I needed the ins and outs of softball and there is no better man in Southeast Missouri than Ray to bring that to you."

Ray, who also was a catcher on his high school baseball team, has played or coached fastpitch since age 16. He was grateful Graviett offered him the position.

Ray had been on traveling teams stationed out of St. Louis, Jefferson City and St. Joseph.

He was a member of the gold medal team in the 1995 Olympic Sports Festival in Denver. He also played on the first Missouri men's major team to win a men's major national tournament. His team shut out every team it played in the tournament.

"He was considered one of the better catchers in fastpitch and played on a lot of nationally ranked teams," Graviett said.

Graviett said asking Ray to join his staff was a no-brainer, and that Ray had to be on the staff for the program to win. Graviett actually knew Ray before Lindsay began playing for Notre Dame. After Graviett graduated from college, he worked one summer at Kelso Supply, a store that Ray and his brother own.

Ray officially became a Notre Dame assistant coach in 2003. But he had helped as a volunteer the two previous seasons at the request of Graviett, an assistant at the time and whose duties then included working with the pitching staff, which Graviett admitted was one duty he did not know much about.

Ray, while not an official Notre Dame coach from 2001 to 2003, called pitches from the dugout for Lindsay, who had emerged as the Bulldogs' ace.

"It was kind of like a comfort thing for my dad to be there," Lindsay said.

Lindsay said her dad had coached her and Lauren's youth teams while they were growing up, so he wanted to continue to coach his daughters in high school.

Ray has tried to teach his girls to call pitches on their own to increase their knowledge about what they are doing in the circle.

"It was nice having him around at that time because I was learning how to call pitches," Lindsay said. "It helped me learn the game because then he could discuss, 'Do you know why I had you throw this pitch to this certain batter?'"

Lisa, who in addition to playing softball at Notre Dame also played volleyball and was the team's MVP her senior year, coached Lindsay and Lauren in volleyball when they were in grade school.

Lisa, however, was not upset when the girls chose to play softball over volleyball at Notre Dame because of Ray's knowledge of softball and his ability to coach the girls at the high school level.

Lisa said both girls have had different relationships with their father as their coach.

"I think Lauren has gotten a little bit better, but I think she relies on Ray a lot more [than Lindsay did]," Lisa said. "Lindsay pretty well figured out what she needed to do to, what she didn't need to do, where she needed to throw the ball."

Ray learned how to teach pitching technique from a former fastpitch teammate in St. Louis. Ray's ex-teammate also gives Lauren pitching lessons.

"He's really broken it down and taught her [Lauren] a lot of things and also taught me a bit more on pitching, so I feel a little bit more comfortable there," Ray said.

Ray is glad he joined the Notre Dame coaching staff, and would like to remain in the position after Lauren graduates in the spring of 2010.

"As far as coaching-wise, I've learned as much from him [Graviett] than I think he's probably learned from me about the game," Ray said. "There are several things that go into a head coach's job other than the Xs and Os of a softball game."

Summer ball and defense

One of the first high school softball games Ray attended was when Lindsay was in eighth grade. The game was between Central and Notre Dame.

"Central had a good pitcher and a great team behind her, and all she did was spot the ball," Ray said. "And I thought, 'Well, I think we can do that.'"

Ray said strong pitching and solid defense remains the most important aspect of softball, and that is one reason he decided to start the SEMO Magic summer team, comprised mostly of Notre Dame players.

He launched the team in the summer of 2001, and has continued each summer since then.

The team allows Notre Dame players to work together on their defense while also learning to play with one another, building team chemistry and competing against other top high school competition. It helps develop the players into midseason form for the start of high school practices each fall.

Having a summer team is another important reason why the Notre Dame program has been so successful over this decade, Graviett said.

"What [Ray] truly brings is that he gives most of these girls an opportunity to play together in the summer, and then even works with them making them better high school players," Graviett said. "And that's definitely carried over."

Ray coached the Magic this past summer with Notre Dame center fielder Erika Reinagel's father, Ron Reinagel, and left fielder Britney Schott's father, Jeff Schott.

"The key to building a program was the summer league," Ray said.

Notre Dame won its first ever district title in 2001 following the Magic's inaugural summer season.

Notre Dame has appeared in two Class 3 championship games, has made it to at least the quarterfinal round of the state playoffs in six of the eight years, finished second in Class 3 twice and earned third place twice since the Magic were formed in 2001.

The summer team certainly has helped the Bulldogs improve their defense. Notre Dame averaged less than one error per game this season.

With such a dependable defense behind Lauren and the other pitchers who Ray has coached at Notre Dame, Ray is able to have pitchers spot the ball. He positions the defense according to the pitch location, then relies on the defense to make plays.

"I can [have Lauren] pitch to the hitter's strengths and weaknesses depending on what I want to do with the hitter," Ray said. "If I want to pitch to their strength, I will position my players there. And hopefully they will hit it that way. Most times they do."

Lauren and Ray said strong defense has helped the pitchers significantly.

"I've been blessed to have the team that I have behind me because I couldn't have done it without them," Lauren said.

Ray also has stressed to Lauren the importance of playing good defense herself because bunts and taps in front of the plate are common in softball. This season, Lauren committed just one error, which is a big reason why she had so many shutouts.

The youngest Reinagel

While the defense has been impressive at Notre Dame, the pitching should not be overlooked. It consistently has been strong since 2001.

Lindsay started it all. She was a two-time all-state pitcher who had pinpoint control of her dropball and changeup.

Beth Schnurbusch followed Lindsay. She was the Bulldogs' ace between 2004 and 2006, and was a two-time all-state pitcher who led Notre Dame to two final four appearances.

Then came Lauren, who has set an even higher standard at Notre Dame.

Lauren, who is a harder thrower than Lindsay, set four individual pitching school records -- strikeouts, no-hitters, shutouts and lowest ERA -- this fall. She already has been named to the all-state team twice and has posted a combined 55-2 record the past two seasons while leading her team to third place in Class 3 in 2007 and second place this fall.

Lauren admits she thinks about throwing a no-hitter each time she pitches.

Graviett has said he has challenged Lauren to be that perfect every time she pitches.

Winning has become the norm at Notre Dame this decade, and expectations have gone up.

The Reinagel family has had a great deal to do with that. They have helped shape Notre Dame into the powerhouse program in Southeast Missouri.

And the family continues to work together to help Lauren and Notre Dame improve.

Lauren enjoys having everyone at her games and values their input.

And Lauren's favorite memory of being coached by her father in high school has nothing to do with winning. It was her first tryout.

"He told me not to be nervous, but of course I was because of all the older girls," Lauren said. "But he was there. Everyone else's dad wasn't and mine was. So it was kind of special. And my dad's always there. ... I'm just really lucky to have my dad there."

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: